Central African Republic ex-leader Bozize returns from exile

BANGUI, Central African Republic (AP) — Former Central African President Francois Bozize, who was ousted nearly seven years ago by a coalition of rebel groups, has returned from exile, his political party announced Monday.

Bozize intends to address the nation in the coming days, said Bertin Bea, the secretary-general of the Kwa Na Kwa party, told journalists in the capital, Bangui.

Bea didn’t say how Bozize had returned home, but a Central African court recently overturned an order prohibiting air companies from bringing Bozize to Bangui.

Bozize’s supporters note how it was his overthrow that ushered in one of the most violent periods in the country’s history. The rebel coalition’s rule was so cruel that it led to the rise of another armed group, the anti-Balaka, and brutal sectarian conflict.

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The rebel coalition known as Seleka was made up mostly of Muslim rebels who had long complained of being marginalized by Bozize and his government.

The anti-Balaka’s hatred of Seleka’s brutal rule eventually led to Muslim civilians being targeted en masse, with tens of thousands being forced from the capital in 2014. Mosques were destroyed, and Muslims were beaten to the death in the streets and their bodies mutilated.

Relatively peaceful elections were later held in 2016, though violence remains widespread outside the capital.

Some feared his return to Bangui could cause political tensions to rise even more before next year’s presidential election.

“We are a bit afraid because we’ve just gotten out of a crisis and we do not want to go back,” said one Bangui resident who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter. “We want to wait and find out more about why he is in Bangui. But we worry he could bring us right back there.”

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Krista Larson reported from Dakar, Senegal.

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